At the first of three town hall meetings on policing, new Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt fielded questions from western county residents on troublesome teenagers, diversity and her background in the Baltimore Police Department.
Three days into her new role, the police chief told the crowd of about 50 people at the Randallstown Community Center Wednesday night that her role as an outsider is a strength.
“I think even in the best agencies, there’s value in bringing in outside independent perspective, to look at the operations of an agency with a fresh set of eyes,” Hyatt said.
The new police chief, who spent 20 years rising through the ranks of Baltimore City’s police department, was asked what she would bring to Baltimore County, given her former department’s troubles with issues like police brutality and corruption.
Hyatt acknowledged that the agency has “had its share of trials and tribulations.”
“So during the course of my 20-year career there, I’ve seen a lot of things that have been done very well – and a lot of things that I’ve learned that I would do differently in terms of accountability and management,” Hyatt said, saying she will work to “make sure some of the pitfalls and the issues that I’ve seen during the course of my career are things that we can make sure that we avoid here.”
Hyatt was sworn in Monday at a ceremony in Towson as Baltimore County’s 14th police chief and the first woman to lead the department.
She was nominated by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. in May and confirmed unanimously by the County Council in an early June vote.
The 43-year-old was the first female sergeant on the Baltimore Police Department tactical team. Her most recent job was as vice president of security for Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.
On Wednesday, Olszewski praised Hyatt’s philosophy on policing, transparency and diversity. While Baltimore County’s overall crime statistics are trending downward, the county executive said he is focused on further improving homicide numbers and that he believes Hyatt is the person for the job.
“I want you to know that I have every confidence that Chief Hyatt is the right person to take this county to the next level,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski and Hyatt also talked about their goals for diversifying the department, making it look like the population it polices through what Hyatt called “creative recruiting.”
In a striking moment, one man asked everyone in the room with a gold badge indicating a rank of major or above to stand. Hyatt stood – so did five men.
Olszewski said in addition to recruiting, the county will start reporting data on diversity in the department and in the county workforce in general.
Community members also lined up to tell Hyatt about their public safety concerns. Many of those concerns centered not directly around policing, but around idle, disengaged young people.
“These kids need jobs,” said Airuel Singletary, of Pikesville. She said some jobs programs around when she was a teenager have been disbanded, and she meets many young people who are looking for work but do not have the means or support at home to find it.
Olszewski talked at the meeting about “upstream investments” like expanding Police Athletic League centers to get young people building relationships with police. He also talked about expanding a summer jobs program in the county and working locally on transportation issues to make jobs more accessible.
Others said to improve public safety, the western county area needs investment – at Security Square Mall, for instance, which has long-vacant buildings sitting idle.
“I just don’t want you to forget about this part of the county because it’s high in African American population,” said Gloria Cooper-Blue. “I see other growth areas like in White Marsh, Hunt Valley, Towson, and I feel like this corridor is being left out.”
“I just want to look you in the eye and tell you that I will not forget this or any other community … having that bar of a Towson, or any other community, be the standard to which we aspire to have all of our communities, that’s my goal as county executive,” Olszewski said to applause.
Hyatt said she is spending her first weeks in office learning about the department and visiting communities around the county.
“Every community is different and dynamic but there are certain things we all have in common,” Hyatt said. “We all want to feel safe.”
The next public safety town hall, focusing on the eastern section of the county, will be at CCBC Dundalk on June 24 at 6:30 p.m. The final town hall on the central area is on June 25, also at 6:30 p.m., at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Cody Boteler contributed to this article.